On an idle Saturday, in between watching Star Trek: The Final Frontier and waiting to watch Notre Dame (hopefully) beat Michigan, I happened to see a post from Gary and View from the Wing on the secrets of airport codes. I thought I’d offer some additional thoughts on decrypting airport codes.
I’ve always found airport codes interesting. Growing up in West Islip, New York, we flew out of Long Island MacArthur Airport in Islip, NY (ISP). I’m not sure why it isn’t ISL, but there does appear to be an airport in Pakistan with that airport code.
A little history
When there were few airports in the early 20th century, they had two letters. Then as there became more, airports moved to three letters. These became the International Air Transport Association (IATA) codes. If you check flightaware, you might find the need to have a four letter airport code. These are International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) codes. For the US, it’s easy, just add “K” – so John F. Kennedy International would be KJFK.
Some rules for the IATA codes – at least in the US
I heavily relied upon a Business Insider post from 2012, but I’ve seen this information elsewhere too, so I consider it somewhat “fact checked.”
- Some airport codes are aligned with the name of the airport, like JFK.
- Some airports codes are based on the location, such as my previous example of Islip (ISP), Others would be Baltimore-Washington International (BWI).
- Some airports are named after a historical figure, such as LaGuardia, named after New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia (I think the airport was originally called Glenn H. Curtiss Airport). Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) was named after John Foster Dulles (a Secretary of State under President Eisenhower).
- In the US, the Navy has a hold on airport codes starting with the letter “N”, so Newark becomes EWR.
- Again, in the US, W or K are reserved for radio stations. K for west of the Mississippi River, W for East. So for example, while you would think Key West would be KEY, it instead is EYW. Of course, if you’re talking ICAO, then Key West is still KEYW. (Thanks to reader: Essenn for the correction).
- Q is for international telecommunications — I’m not sure I understand that one.
- Z is reserved for special use.
- The Canadian’s must really like the letter “Y”, so all of their airport codes start with it. I’m not entirely sure how they determine the remaining two letters — e.g. YYZ for Toronto
Some fun Jeopardy! questions
I recall a few Jeopardy! questions over the past few years. A couple examples of the answers were:
- DAD – Da Nang International Airport, Vietnam
- MOM – Moudjeria Airport, Mauritania